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Prep Rally: Patrick Walsh deserves a standing ovation

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. It’s the final weekend of high school football. CIF state championship bowl games will take place Friday and Saturday. We’ve come a long way in a time of COVID-19 protocols and it’s only fitting that Patrick Walsh, who helped save the football season in 2021, has his team playing for the Open Division title at Saddleback College.

Deserving of standing ovation

Patrick Walsh of San Mateo Serra.
Patrick Walsh of San Mateo Serra was one of the key figures in convincing politicians and health officials to bring back high school sports during the pandemic.
(San Mateo Serra)

San Mateo Serra is coming to town on Saturday night to play Santa Ana Mater Dei in the CIF state championship Open Division bowl game.

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We all should give coach Patrick Walsh a standing ovation. He was so influential last January in making sure state politicians and education leaders understood that high school sports must resume after being shut down since March of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it happened. There was a spring football season because of Walsh.

“It’s crazy how has come full circle,” Walsh said. “This game is as much for the 2020 team as it is for the 2021 team. We fought so hard to get football here and proven to be a safe endeavor.”

Walsh said he intends to search every movie about an underdog winning.

“Rudy, Rocky IV, Hoosiers, Gladiator — we’re going to do an all-star film of underdog speeches and give the Monarchs our best shot,” he said.

Now his team will be playing in its 18th game of 2021. Serra is a heavy underdog to unbeaten Mater Dei.

Here’s my column on how Walsh helped save high school sports in California.

Football rewind

Gardena Serra secondary provides triple coverage against Long Beach Poly receiver.
(Craig Weston)

Birmingham, the City Section Open Division champion, has given its section something to cheer about. The Patriots have advanced to the 3-A championship game after knocking off Patrick Henry 35-28 last weekend. That’s nine consecutive victories after an 0-5 start. Here’s the report from San Diego.

Gardena Serra and Long Beach Poly played in the Southern California Division 1-A regional final before a capacity crowd of more than 6,000 at Serra. It was a defensive struggle with some big plays won by Serra 21-17. Serra gets to play at Saddleback College on Saturday at 4 p.m. against Bakersfield Liberty. Here’s the report about its victory.

Here’s the link for this weekend’s final week of high school football.

Girls’ basketball

Juju Watkins.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

There continues to be outstanding performances in the early season for girls’ basketball players.

Gabriela Jaquez of Camarillo, a UCLA signee, keeps scoring 28 or more points. She’s an offensive super star.

Birmingham came up with a huge win over Palisades in a battle of City Section title contenders. Janna Holley scored 34 points.

Windward knocked off Westchester in a game that featured two top players. Skye Belker of Windward scored 33 points. Reigne Waugh of Westchester scored 28 points.

Juju Watkins made her debut for Sierra Canyon after being cleared by the Southern Section and led the Trailblazers to a tournament championship in Texas, then came home to score 39 points at Staples Center.

Luca Evans writes about Sierra Canyon sophomore MacKenly Randolph and her memories of playing for Kobe Bryant, memories brought back by a game at Staples Center on Saturday. “It brought back memories; good memories and the bad memories,” Randolph said. “But you have to push through regardless.”

Boys’ basketball

Amari Bailey returned to the Sierra Canyon lineup on Tuesday.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Amari Bailey was back playing for Sierra Canyon after missing the first five games while recovering from a foot injury. It moved Sierra Canyon a step closer to reaching full strength. Transfers Isaiah Elohim and Jeremiah Nyarko will join the team on Dec. 27. Bailey scored 23 points in consecutive games, then suffered an ankle injury in practice that left him unable to play on Saturday at Staples Center. He was on crutches.

Harvard-Westlake, Etiwanda and St. Bernard all won tournament championships to stay unbeaten. Sierra Canyon played at Staples Center with LeBron James and a few of his friends watching. Here’s a report from Staples Center.

Viewpoint has won seven consecutive games since an opening loss to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. UCLA coach Mick Cronin was on hand to see Notre Dame’s Dusty Stromer score 29 points against Campbell Hall.

A look at The Times’ top 25 boys’ basketball teams in the Southland:

Rk. SCHOOL (W-L); Comment (last rank)

1. SIERRA CANYON (7-1); Bronny James is coming on strong (1)

2. CORONA CENTENNIAL (5-1); Headed to Arizona on Saturday (2)

3. HARVARD-WESTLAKE (8-0); Cameron Thrower provides lift (3)

4. ETIWANDA (6-0); IE tournament champions behind Curtis Williams (4)

5. DAMIEN (8-0); Spartans off to another fabulous start (6)

Here’s the link for complete top 25 rankings.

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USC recruit?

Birmingham's Arlis Boardingham.
(Bordingham family)

Arlis Boardingham, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior at Lake Balboa Birmingham, just led his team to the City Section Open Division football championship on a Saturday night. On Sunday morning, the undecided college prospect was informed by USC recruiters that a new coach would be announced, but they didn’t know his name.

Then came word Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley is the new USC coach.

“My initial reaction was shock,” he said. “My next reaction was what’s going to happen and thinking about my decision. There’s going to be a lot of confusion for people. Those SoCal kids committed to Oklahoma, those who decommitted from USC. It’s a blur for me right now.”

Here’s a look at how the coaching change might affect Boardingham.

10 recruits to watch

Who should be the recruiting priority for Lincoln Riley?

I put together a list of uncommitted and committed players among seniors and juniors. Riley did pick up his first USC commitment from Los Alamitos junior quarterback Malachi Nelson, who was previously committed to Oklahoma.

Here’s the link.

Taft High hero

Taft quarterback Wellington Bristow holds City Section Division III championship trophy.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

There were 54 seconds left in the City Section Division III championship football game on Friday. Woodland Hills Taft trailed Panorama 20-19 and was ready to try a two-point conversion. Jeff Kearin, who has been coaching for decades at the college and high school levels, thought he had the perfect play.

Yet, his quarterback, senior Wellington Bristow, told him during a timeout, “I don’t like it.”

Said Kearin: “I had a play that we always used and always worked but hadn’t practiced in two weeks. By the grace of God, they called time out.”

After Bristow objected, Kearin said, “I don’t like it, either.”

“We both said, ‘Let’s run naked play action,’” the coach said. “He put us in a formation we had never done before.”

Then Bristow rolled left, saw there was no open receiver and proceeded to run, pushing away a defender, to reach the end zone for a 21-20 victory. A team that had a 26-game losing streak in August is now a City champion.

Call it the Miracle on Ventura Boulevard.

“I’ll be damned, he pulled it out,” Kearin said. “He muscled himself into the end zone. He stiff-armed this guy. If he did it on the street he would be put in jail.”

Who is this 17-year-old quarterback who had the courage and gumption to question his coach before pulling off a Hollywood ending?

Here’s the link to profile on Wellington Bristow.

Mater Dei update

Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson celebrates after his team defeated Servite to win Division 1 title.
(Nick Koza)

Mater Dei announced it will ask an outside firm to conduct an independent investigation into student safety and make other changes after a lawsuit that accused the school of endorsing hazing within the football program.

Father Walter Jenkins, Mater Dei’s president, released a letter to the Mater Dei community outlining changes in the response to the allegation a former football player sustained a traumatic brain injury after a February locker room fight.

In addition to the investigation, Jenkins wrote he would establish a task force of industry athletic leaders to review the way the school’s athletic programs are structured.

Here’s the link to update from the CIF and Orange County District Attorney.

Here’s the link to a column from Gustavo Arellano providing a history of troubling issues involving Mater Dei and the Diocese of Orange.

Here’s the link to a column by Bill Plaschke talking to the parents who filed the lawsuit.

Soccer

Cathedral's soccer team defeated Loyola 3-1.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

The battle for the Downtown World Cup saw L.A. Cathedral defeat Loyola 3-1 last week. It’s always a competitive game between two top soccer programs located in downtown Los Angeles.

Here’s the link to the match.

City Section powers Birmingham and El Camino Real were impressive in their debuts. Birmingham received four goals from David Diaz in a 7-1 win over Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. Sebastian Cortes scored two goals in El Camino Real’s 2-0 win over San Fernando.

Girls’ tennis

Freshman Daniela Borruel of Sunny Hills won the Southern Section girls’ individual tennis championship.

La Canada’s doubles team of Eliana Hanna and Tsehay Driscoll won the doubles title.

Cross-country

Another weekend, another historic performance by Newbury Park in cross-country.

The team traveled to Huntsville, Ala., for the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country championships. Colin Sahlman set a national record, running the 5K in 14 minutes, 3.29 seconds. Brothers Leo and Lex Young finished second and third in 14:05.07 and 14:05.49.

Newbury Park won the team title.

Notes . . .

Corona quarterback Delaney Crawford has committed to Virginia. He’s also one of the state’s top track athletes in the hurdles. . . . .

Junior pitcher Gavin Grahovac of Villa Park has committed to Texas A&M. . . .

Junior pitcher Eric Jeon of La Mirada has committed to Columbia. . . .

Punter Chase Barry of JSerra has committed to UCLA. . . .

Servite sprinter Max Thomas has committed to USC. He’s also a standout in soccer. . . .

Mater Dei linebacker David Bailey has committed to Stanford. . . .

Eric Zomalt is the new football coach at Rancho Verde. He has been head coach at Citrus Valley and Canyon Springs.

From the archives: Bryce Young

Bryce Young.
Bryce Young during his days at Mater Dei.
(Mark Boster/For the Times)

This could be the week former L.A. Cathedral and Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Bryce Young wins the Heisman Trophy.

Young became the favorite after leading Alabama past Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Young started his career at Cathedral, playing the first two years before transferring to Mater Dei.

Here’s a story from 2019 of Young being a groundbreaking player at Mater Dei.

Here’s a story from 2020 talking with Young’s father, Craig, about the perils of recruiting.

Here’s a story from The Ringer on Young’s pursuit of excellence.

Recommendations

From the Los Angeles Times, a look at the matchup of Ball brothers, LaMelo vs. Lonzo.

From barstoolsports.com, a blog about a high school football player from Michigan who rushed a school shooter and saved lives.

From ESPN.com, a story on how a wrong phone call led to Tom Brady joining a call with players from a Michigan high school basketball team.

Tweets you might have missed

Until next time...

Have a question, comment or something you’d like to see in a future Prep Rally newsletter? Email me at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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